Culture and Personality

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The theory of Culture and Personality explained relationships between childrearing customs and human behaviors in different societies. Through examination of individual personalities, we can gain an understanding of a culture. There were two main themes in this theoretical school. One was about the relationship between culture and human nature. The other was about the correlation between culture and individual personality. The theory of Culture and Personality was based on Boas’ cultural relativism and Freud’s psychoanalysis about early childhood. If we premise that all humans are hereditarily equal, why are people so unique from society to society? The theoretical school answered this question by using Freud’s psychoanalysis: the differences between people in various societies usually stem from cultural differences installed in childhood. In other words, the foundations of personality development are set in early childhood according to each society’s unique cultural traits. Based on this basis, the theoretical school of Culture and Personality researched childrearing in different societies and compared the results cross-culturally. They described distinctive characteristics of people in certain cultures and attributed these unique traits to the different methods of childrearing. The aim of this comparison was to show the correlation between childrearing practices and adult personality types.

The Culture and Personality school (of thought) was on the cutting edge when it emerged in the early 20th century. Using clinical interviews, dream analysis, life histories, participant observation, and projective tests (e.g., Rorschach), the culture and personality analysis of the correlation between childrearing customs and human behaviors was, at that time, a practical alternative to using racism explanations for analyzing different human behaviors. In fact, the culture and personality school was responsible for greatly limiting the number of racist, hierarchical descriptions of culture types common during the early to mid-20th century. This approach to understanding culture was instrumental in moving the focus to the individual in order to understand behaviors within a culture instead of looking for universal laws of human behavior.

Ruth Benedict (1887-1948, The United States)

A student of Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict finished her doctoral work in three years at Columbia University. Her dissertation on documenting the rapidly deteriorating Native American societies provided the impetus to pursue culture and personality studies. Through her work on the patterning of culture at an individual level, Benedict opened anthropology into a much larger discussion between the disciplines of anthropology and psychology. In her more famous monograph, Patterns of Culture, Benedict seeks to define various cultures in terms of four types Apollonian, Dionysian, Paranoid and Meglomanic. These represented ways of living, or cultural configurations (Bernard and Spencer 1996:137). Benedict admits that not all cultures will fit into these four types; however, she uses these types to characterize the Pueblo, Plains Indians, Dobu Islanders, and Kwakuital (in that order). Another famous work by Benedict is The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946). This monograph was based on the national character of Japan; however, Benedict, herself, never visited Japan. Instead, she gathered material for her monograph from her readings of Japanese life and interviews of Japanese immigrants (Bohannan and Glazer 1988:174). Benedict's approach to studying culutres centered on the ethos or the characteristic moral, aesthetic, and emotional tones of specific cultures).

Margaret Mead (1901-1978, The United States) Margaret Mead is known for the approach called Culture and Personality. This approach answers the fundamental question in cultural anthropology of, “why are we the way we are?” by explaining the relationship between childrearing customs and human behaviors. She saw an individual as a product of culture that shape the person in unique manners. These cultural traits are learned by the individual as an infant, and they are reinterpreted and reinforced as the individual goes through its stages of life. In short, the differences between people in different societies are usually cultural differences imparted in childhood. This interaction between individual and culture is dynamic and a complex process by which humans learn to be humans.

19th-century Evolutionism | Historical Particularism | Functionalism | Culture and Personality | Neoevolutionism | Materialism and NeoMaterialism | Structuralism | Symbolic Anthropology | Postmodernism